It is regulated like a clock. For 42 years, the French writer Charles Juliet has published excerpts from his diary every four years, where he records his thoughts on the people he meets, books, films and artists. It is now in volume X, entitled The day is falling. Press spoke with this 86-year-old author, little known in Quebec.
You published your first book, the first volume of your journal, at 44 years old. Why so late?
I worked for twenty years in the shadows. I was dissatisfied with what I wrote, I had a lot of hindrances and problems. I had to wait, trample in the shadows. Oddly enough, instead of starting with a book, the publisher allowed me to publish the first volume of my diary, which, of course, is not done. In principle, a writer publishes his journal at the end of his life, after having produced an entire work. But I had nothing to offer outside of my journal.
It’s a novel, The year of awakening, which made you popular, in 1989. Why?
It is a story that I wrote very late in my life, about the first year of my life in preparatory military school, at 12 years old. I was a troop child. Before, I had kept cows for years, I only went to school on All Saints’ Day [1er novembre] at Easter. This story touched people.
You describe there the adulterous relationship you had with the wife of your leader. It resonates with many of the people you describe in your journal, who suffer from being the victim of incest as children.
At the time, we weren’t talking about pedophilia. I was in love with this woman, but it was absolutely not on purpose, it was two human beings who met. The section chief was very nice to us, but he was jealous, he kept his wife prisoner in her house outside the city, she was unhappy.
How did you make a living before publishing your first book in 1978?
I got married very young. The children of the troops, we obviously lacked affection. My wife was a teacher and earned enough. When I graduated from that school at 20, I started studying medicine at a military school, but after two years I had a strong urge to write. When I decided to be reformed, I had no writing experience, no culture, no one who could have guided me in my reading. I wasted a lot of time reading just about anything, then very gradually I discovered the books I had to read.
How would you describe your research? You talk about Hindu meditation, psychoanalysis, Christian mysticism.
Essentially it is a search for self-knowledge, something fundamental, which concerns every living being. When I turn to my memory and my unconscious, I try to clarify myself, to understand what I was, all the obstacles and difficulties that previously prevented me from living in harmony with myself. I was helped by certain readings, beautiful encounters too, such as the sculptor Maxime Descombin and the painter Bram van Velde, with whom I was a friend. It is extremely slow. Most of my time has been meditating, wondering about life and the human condition, about the human psyche.
How do you edit your newspapers?
I am a little careless. I have all these notes, I neglect to put them together. I have notebooks and loose sheets. I never force myself to write. I accept what is given to me by the outside world or my inner voice. There is this silent voice within us that tells us a lot of things. A lot of my work time consists of listening to this inner voice. Sometimes I write for three or four days, then nothing for two weeks.
Your journal entries are alternately long and short. Is it intentional?
I don’t force anything, when I have nothing to say, I don’t write. If it’s three lines, that’s it.
Your newspaper often talks about other people. Rather, people who keep a diary talk about their own feelings.
The difficulty when you write a diary, when you know that it is going to be published, obviously, is to talk about yourself, but without falling into the anecdotal and the circumstantial, trying to say only universal things that speak to you. a big number of people. It turns out that my journal is read by certain people in difficulty who suffer and sometimes find in my journal a support, a comfort.
You write at some point that you hate the “wacky” you have been and you talk about the desire to destroy newspapers in your twenties.
I started my journal when I was 15, but didn’t know what I was doing. I felt that everything was erased, it was a real drama for me which prevented me from working on my studies. I felt painfully the flow and the flight of time, and, of course, the loss of all that we saw. From a moment, I wanted to make my journal my only place of expression. But my journals did not seem interesting enough to me. I did not destroy them entirely, I am going back to certain pages, to see what I was at that time and what I was thinking.
You talk about a “strict” way of life.
All my life is subject to this worry of writing, so I go out a bit in the morning and in the afternoon. In the evening, in principle, I am at my table, at least when I am at work and when I feel I can write.
There is in the Anglo-Saxon world a requirement of absolute truth for “non-fiction”. In France, there is rather a fashion of “autofiction”, on the model of Jean d’Ormesson. Where does your logs fall in between?
In my journal, I look for great authenticity. Often times I say that when you write you can’t lie. When we invent the text, we lose everything. I don’t have to judge those who do autofiction, I don’t read this kind of text, you never know how to distinguish between what has been experienced and what has been invented. I have always defied the imagination. I research in myself the states of mind, the emotions, I try to understand them and if possible to eliminate the obstacles, the fears, to be rigorous and precise in my research.
You have written books on artists and mystics, as well as poems. Do you have other projects?
The themes do not come to me. I just write journal notes, very carefully.
“What stood out for me this afternoon was a young woman with a beautiful face, who smoked cigarette after cigarette. She was literally eaten up with boredom. Installed near a bar table, a little below me, I could observe her without her noticing me. No longer holding it, she left. After a while she came back and settled in the same place. Cigarettes have again succeeded cigarettes. Boredom and loneliness. This boredom which empties you of all desire, of all strength, of all hope. His distress hurt me. ”
The day goes down, Journal X, 2009-2012
Four and a half stars